Politics

O'Toole says all Canadians should get a shot as Conservative MP calls mandatory vaccination 'tyrannical'

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said today that all Canadians should get vaccinated so that the country can turn the page on COVID-19 — but at least one member of his caucus is spoiling for a fight against efforts to make vaccines mandatory for federal public servants.

'Canadians deserve the right to liberty, whether they choose to be vaccinated or not,' MP David Yurdiga says

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole reads from a teleprompter as he makes an announcement in Calgary on Thursday, July 8, 2021. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said today that all Canadians should get vaccinated so that the country can turn the page on COVID-19 — but at least one member of his caucus is spoiling for a fight against efforts to make vaccines mandatory for federal public servants.

In a statement released late Tuesday, Conservative MP David Yurdiga, who represents Fort McMurray, Alta. in the Commons, said a government plan to study the value of making vaccination mandatory for federal bureaucrats was "another example of the Liberals using severe government overreach for political gain."

David Yurdiga, Conservative MP for Fort McMurray—Cold Lake attends the opening of the Fort Hills oilsands mine on Sept. 10, 2018. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directed the clerk of the Privy Council, the most senior public servant in Canada, to look into making vaccines mandatory for federal employees and those working in federally regulated sectors (airlines, banking, broadcasting and railways, among others) in an effort to boost stalled vaccination rates.

There are more than 300,000 federal public servants, and hundreds of thousands more people are working in industries that fall under the federal labour code.

Yurdiga said forcing these workers to get a vaccine is a "tyrannical" idea that should give all Canadians pause.

"Canadians deserve the right to liberty, whether they choose to be vaccinated or not. Mandating the vaccine as a requirement to work would be the beginning of a slippery slope," Yurdiga said.

The MP said such a policy would be discriminatory, punishing Canadians for "what they choose to do with their bodies."

Proponents of mandatory shots maintain it's the best way to develop herd immunity, protect the collective health of Canadians and rid the country of a very serious disease. Almost universal vaccine coverage has eradicated other diseases, such as polio and tetanus.

"It's time for people to get vaccinated, and for those who are hesitant to go and get their first and second doses," Trudeau said last week.

As the much more virulent delta strain of the virus takes hold in the U.S. and elsewhere, pushing case counts to levels not seen in months, a number of private companies and government departments already have said they will demand their employees either get a shot or find a new job.

While Canada has emerged as a world leader in vaccine coverage, there are still more than five million Canadians who haven't yet had at least one dose.

With a fourth wave of new infections poised to hit Canada in the coming weeks, experts say further boosting vaccine coverage will protect the country's health care system from again being overloaded with COVID-19 patients.

To date, the vast majority of new infections have been among the unvaccinated, even though they make up an increasingly smaller segment of the population.

There have been a number of "breakthrough" cases among the fully vaccinated but early data suggest those with two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are much less likely to require hospitalization or die from the virus.

When asked to comment on Yurdiga's argument that mandatory shots would be "tyrannical," O'Toole was vague.

"I've been very clear — vaccines are the most critical tool in us fighting COVID-19. We encourage all Canadians to get vaccinated. It's actually why my wife and I took the unusual step of videotaping our own vaccinations," O'Toole said.

"I'd like to see everyone take a look at how safe and effective vaccines are for use. Let's all be part of the fight against COVID-19."

While Trudeau is floating the idea of mandatory vaccinations now, he hasn't always been keen on the idea. In January, in the early days of the immunization campaign, the prime minister said demanding that people get a shot would be a "divisive" approach to vaccination.

"There are a broad range of reasons why someone might not get vaccinated and I'm worried about creating knock-on, undesirable effects in our community," Trudeau told Reuters when asked about the prospect of a federal vaccine passport program.

"I think the indications that the vast majority of Canadians are looking to be vaccinated will get us to a good place without having to take more extreme measures that could have real divisive impacts on community and country."

O'Toole presents new plan to boost Canadian innovation

The Conservatives have long been critical of the government's vaccine procurement strategy, which relied entirely on foreign suppliers because the Canadian pharmaceutical industry has been hollowed out after years of cuts.

To boost innovation in this sector and others, O'Toole announced Wednesday that, if elected, a Conservative government would slash the income tax rate in half for new patented technologies developed in Canada. O'Toole said it would give Canadian tech companies some of the lowest tax rates in the world.

As part of O'Toole's COVID-19 recovery plan, a Conservative government would also establish the "Canadian Advanced Research Agency," a government body that would fund "major cutting-edge technologies" like carbon capture and storage, hydrogen fuel, small nuclear reactors, electric vehicle development and pharmaceutical research and production.

He also vowed to fix what he called the "broken" Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program, which provides companies with tax incentives to conduct research and development (R&D) in Canada.

In 2019, the program provided $3 billion in tax incentives to over 20,000 claimants but O'Toole said the current regime is an "administrative nightmare" that "fuels consultants and advisory firms instead of R&D."

"Make no mistake, the next great breakthrough — and the one after that — will come from right here in Canada," O'Toole said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

J.P. Tasker is a senior writer in the CBC's parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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